from a friend in industry:
I want to help my students put together the
portfolios and reels that employers are looking for. Can you advise me on what
makes a good reel?
What makes a good reel... hmmm ... It should
be short - apx 2-3 minutes max. If you haven’t caught someone's eye in the
first 30 seconds they will never see the rest of it. They should pick three
things that they do exceptionally well and focus on it. Whatever they choose to
show, it needs to show personal attention to detail; it has to scream out that
this is a person that thrives on zero sleep and seven day workweeks, 'cause that’s
what they can expect. As my former boss used to say when he was at Digital
Domain: Perfection is almost acceptable".
There should be absolutely no filler of any
sort - filler is the killer. Everything should belong. If in doubt don’t show
In a way it's kind of unfair to have just
one demo reel, especially if they are good at several things. I personally
suggest tailoring the reel to the job you are applying for - if you have that
There are two schools of thought on what
else should be included in a portfolio; some people say it should also include
examples of traditional arts such as drawing, painting, sculpture, and
photography. I'd say if that material is actually noteworthy and shows that the
person has developed an eye or has skills that translate into the CG world,
then include it. However, I'd also say that the decision is going to ultimately
be based on how good their CG stuff looks... Don’t distract with lots of extraneous
I would suggest that students become very
proficient in Unix shell scripting and even C programming. That is a crucial
issue if we're talking about a major production facility. For instance, in our
facility you have to be able to locate shots, files, maps, geometry, etc
located on any one of over a hundred machines & pipe them into a script,
application, renderque, etc. _without_ screwing up the data. If you crunch
files or if you cant figure out how to find stuff you don’t last very long... A
large amount of stuff is still done via a command line; almost all of our compositing
is done with text scripts - there is no visual interface for the software. We
use just about every package under the sun, so there is a lot of in-house
"glue" that makes everything work together.
are good job titles and descriptions that these students can specify or look
Hard to say... Modeler, lighter, animator...
it varies from company.
I should mention that the industry is
exceptionally tight right now. In Los Angeles alone there have been massive
layoffs at most of the facilities, so you have seasoned professionals competing
for the same jobs that the new kids are looking at... We laid off 75% of our
office after the game was completed... Most of my friends have been job hunting
since March. At our peak we had over 110 people here - we now have about 25.
Hope this helps- Dave
Another thing that newbies to the industry
need to realize is that while a strong artistic sense is greatly valued, what
the business wants is highly competent *craftsmen* that know how to get
results; they don’t want or need someone to second guess the art director's
Even if it means sucking it up and deferring
to a lousy look, make your art director happy and shot supervisor happy. They
write your employee evaluations... (grin)
industry you work in is NUTS! Do you have advice on jobs that may not be in
California, many not be as much money, but are a bit more sane?
In my situation, remember how long it took
for me to break in - I spent two full years of shopping my stuff around before
it happened, and I worked two jobs and freelanced at night to make it happen. I
also made myself highly visible in various newsgroups and email forums as
someone very knowledgeable about the software and didn’t take obnoxious
political stances on issues...
Television production is nationwide;
corporate design and presentation is also. There are a lot of games companies
that are not in the LA area worth checking into. Feature film is highly project
driven. Most places only do per-project hiring these days. Very few staff
positions, and they are generally drawn from people that have survived several
rounds of layoffs following each project - kind of a survival of the fittest
kind of firm or business should the students target?
Small to mid sized production houses and
game companies right out of the gate; the bigger houses have such a pool of
talent to pick from that unless the applicant has real production experience
under their belt they don’t have much of a chance.
OTHER MISCELLANEOUS SUGGESTIONS
This is a list of suggestions for demo
submissions stuff from someone at Tippett's studios. It's pretty good...
Having recently waded through several
hundred character animation demo reels, I thought I'd offer up my reactions in
the form of a list of tips and suggestions regarding such submission materials.
If anyone actually has the time to read this
whole darn thing, please feel free to correct, append, edit as you
like...(remember, this is just one man's opinions - )
Before getting specific I wanted to first
mention what I feel is the best piece of general advice I can give to someone
submitting a demo reel:
Imagine that the people who are going to
review your work are the busiest, most disorganized and inconsiderate folks on
the planet. You want to make it as easy and painless as possible for them to
look at your work. Try to avoid anything that might contribute to them not
being able to (or not wanting to) review your stuff.
- Make it
short and to the point. (See previous paragraph).
- If you are
applying to a particular department, indicate this so we know who should
be looking at the tape.
- If you were
referred by someone, definitely mention this.
- Include a
list of references. Most of us have had at least one or two bad
experiences with colleagues in the past. If you don't steer your
prospective employer toward folks who like you, they might stumble upon
someone who doesn't.
adjectives. I'm always suspicious when someone butters up their cover
letter telling me how good their work is. "If your work speaks for
itself, there's no need to interrupt." I want an applicant's
animations to convince me of their talents, not their words. (6) Check
your sppeling, grammur, punkshooayshun & typoez. This may not matter
to some people but keep in mind that your cover letter is often your very
first introduction to a prospective employer. Don't let your first
impression indicate that you don't check your work and that attention to
detail is not a priority for you.
- Try to avoid
listing irrelevant experiences.
- Do, however,
list skills/hobbies/interests that might be relevant. If you're applying
for a job at an interactive house that makes fighting games and you've
studied karate, indicate this. Acting/mime/dance/gymnastics/etc are good
skills to mention when applying for a job as an animator.
but DON'T LIE! If you were a janitor, say "custodial engineer".
If, however, you were a grunt animator at a particular shop and one time
you made a suggestion to a co-worker and they took it, don't call yourself
an "animation supervisor".
- VHS. NTSC.
It's a safe bet that the place to which you are applying has a standard
VHS deck. They might not have a 3/4 deck or a PAL converter though. Don't
send CD's or floppies or zip-drives unless you've called ahead and
confirmed that they are able to view such formats.
- Put your
best stuff first. Because of the volume of tapes I need to look at, if I'm
not "grabbed" in the first ten seconds of a reel I tend to watch
the rest in fast-forward mode until I see something that looks interesting
enough to stop and look at in normal speed. Don't let me miss your best
- Don't repeat
animations. Please don't assume that I wanted to see that particular piece
again. I do have a rewind button on my remote. Also, repeating animations
implies you have a limited quantity of work and it looks like
- Keep it
short. 3 minutes is a general target length.
- Include a
reel breakdown. Unless EVERYTHING on the tape is 100% yours, it is
essential that you include a descriptive list of your contributions to
each shot. If you don't I am assuming that you are claiming that
everything is all yours. If you have collaborative work on your reel, it
is dishonest, annoying and downright criminal to not include a reel
- DO NOT PUT
OTHER PEOPLE'S WORK ON YOUR REEL! This should be the most obvious thing in
the world but it happens. Just last week I received a reel without a
breakdown that had work I recognized because it belonged to a friend of
mine. After requesting a reel breakdown, the dishonest submitter admitted
to "having had little to do with" certain pieces on the reel.
Since this information was not initially volunteered I had been led to
believe that he was claiming to have done those pieces himself. We do not
make a habit of hiring deceitful people. My friend is actually considering
a lawsuit against this individual. (Can you say "plagiarism"?)
- Don't send
inappropriate work. A place that does children's educational software does
not want to see blood and guts. We are a creature shop. Don't send us a
tape full of spaceships and camera fly-throughs. This shows that you
didn't take the time to find out about the company to which you are
applying. Why should we then take the time to find out about you?
- Label your
tape clearly and put your contact information in the body of the tape.
Sometimes tapes get separated from their resumes. Make it easy for us to
re-organize our piles.
- Pop your
tabs. Remember, we are busy and disorganized. I might hit the
"record" button instead of the "play" button
accidentally. Remember, I'm thoughtless and inconsiderate.
- Rewind your
tape. We WILL charge you $1.00!
drawings on your tape ONLY if you truly think they will help your case. I
will certainly be more inclined to want to interview a tape with
borderline animations if there are really good figure drawings at the end.
Strong fundamental skills are a good indication of someone's overall
aesthetic sensibilities. However, don't include bad figure drawings just
to demonstrate that you've taken a figure drawing class. Now, I'm not
saying that you have to show figure drawings in order to get hired as a
character animator, but don't go out of your way to show your weaknesses.
It tells me that you aren't a good judge of your own work and will
therefore need a lot of supervision.
"acting". Let's face it, walk/run/flight cycles alone will not
get you hired as a character animator anymore. Mainly because such motions
can be easily copied from a variety of sources. Your animations need to
convey emotions and thoughts through body language. Example: Don't animate
a kid eating a bowl of peas. Animate a kid who hates peas but his mother
is making him eat them anyway. If you can tell such a story through
timing, posing and facial expressions alone, you will get hired. (I
actually rarely have the volume on when watching tapes).
- Avoid large,
cumbersome packages that are difficult to catalogue, file and shelve. I've
seen them bent to fit into boxes. Which of course brings up: Don't send
original artwork. It WILL get damaged.
- Don't show
stuff you don't want to be asked to do.
with solid motion are better than fully textured renderings with mediocre
motion. (You might accidentally get hired to do lighting!)
- Be careful
when including work that isn't supposed to be publicly viewed yet. If you
are showing me clips from a film that has not yet been released, you are
telling me that you'd be willing to show OUR work before it's released as
well. Make sure your interviewer knows that you've cleared it with your
current/previous place of employ first.
- Make sure
your tape really shows what you're capable of. I get a lot of tapes from
ReBoot/Beast-Wars folks who mention that they have very little time to do
a shot and the style is dictated very strictly. Given such restrictions I
can't really judge their skills by seeing this work alone. When I get such
tapes I immediately request additional work. Include personal stuff as
well as professional work. I like to see what you can do on your own as
well as what you can do on a team.
- Be honest
with yourself. If your entire experience with character animation includes
nothing more than having pulled off 2 walk cycles, you're probably not
quite ready to offer your services as a character animator. Only apply to
a place where you truly feel you can do the work.
- Be on time.
Remember, first impressions are lasting impressions.
appropriately. You don't have to wear a suit, but error on the side of
overdressing rather than under dressing. Don't worry; you're not going to
insult a prospective employer if you are better dressed than they are.
Chances are you will be...after all...they already have the job!
another copy of your reel/resume. Remember, I'm really disorganized, I
might not have it
- Bring some
additional work. Don't let me believe that your reel comprises everything
you've ever done.
- Be very
careful when speaking negatively about a former job or boss or co-worker.
This is a very small industry. There's a chance your interviewer knows the
person/place of which you speak. I lost a job opportunity myself because
of this once.
- Watch for
trick questions. "Oh...come on...you can show us those shots from
that movie that isn't out yet...we won't tell anyone!" Or:
"Hmmmm...I see you have 3 months to go before finishing your current
project...we could really use you sooner...are you sure you can't just
abandon your current team and join us now?" If you do it to them,
you'll do it to us.
Keep in mind it often takes a while before a
demo tape gets reviewed. If you haven't heard anything for 3 weeks or so it is
okay to call and make sure your tape was received.
But don't be a pest.
After an interview, it is a good idea to
send a follow up letter thanking your prospective employer for taking the time
to meet with you. Don't call unless you haven't heard anything for a while. And
don't contact the company repeatedly.
If you don't get hired, resubmit your
materials every 6 months or so. Our needs and criteria change all the time.
Your skills/style might not have been appropriate for last year's project, but
they might be right for this year's.
That's all for now.
Time for me to do some work...